Tag Archives: children’s literature

Inside Scoop: Dish From a Literary Agent Intern… 4 Things I Learned about Picture Books From Visiting a Bookstore

Bookshelf

Today I’m going to talk about an experience I had involving a visit to the “mothership” (that’s what a friend and I lovingly call bookstores). I was learning how to write an editorial letter for a picture book and I discovered *gasp* I had no clue what I was talking about! I realized that my conception of what picture books are was stuck in 1995; lyrical, wordy and beautifully illustrated. Although I do believe classics like The Hungry Caterpillar, The Giving Tree, or Love You Forever will continue to have a place in the market, I had to discover what’s happening in picture books today. Here is what I found:

  1. Meta is betta – well not so much that it’s better, but a lot of meta picture books are on the bookstore shelves today. There are tons of books about books, books that involve the readerPress Here in an engaging journey (think There is a Monster at the End of this Book), books that are introspective and just fun for fun’s sake. I was surrounded by books like Press Here that brought me through the book interactively by pushing colored illustrations, which actually made it feel like I was creating the book as I went along.
  2. Quirky is where it’s at – I discovered books that were offbeat and What Does the Fox Sayoutside the box, like What Does the Fox Say. You know, that song by the Norwegian band Ylvis? Yeah, there’s a children’s book about that! I have to say it was great! When I first spotted it, I literally laughed out loud, thinking that it wasn’t going to be anything I would like. But how wrong I was. The Illustrations were so different and entertaining and reading the lyrics was so much fun!
  3. Morals aren’t for everyone – or they shouldn’t be shoved in the reader’s face while reading. Kids (and I think it’s safe to say adults) don’t want to know they are being taught something while reading.  Remember when I said “fun for fun’s sake” like a minute ago? That’s what picture books are about. They might have a lesson, but it isn’t one that is glaring a child in the face saying “look at me, you need to be a good boy/girl!”
  4. Less is more – There are an abundance of picture books out there that don’t even reach 500 words. They are filled with questions, interactive fun, self-searching queries or just nonsense (remember that fun factor I keep bringing up?). The smaller word count and engaging illustrations create a road to discovery that I think gets lost when there are too many words.

When I left the “mothership” I felt I was able to recognize and better understand where the picture book market is at the moment. Now, I’m not saying you should write to a trend. But do you think it would be wise to write an 1,800 word lyrical picture book? Probably not. It probably wouldn’t sell. However, you should allow yourself to be open to what is out there, recognize what is selling, and still remain true to who you are as a writer. If you do, you will do just fine.

Tell me in the comments below one of your favorite picture books on the market today!

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A Book a Day, I Don’t Care What you Say – Contest Day 3

When I was growing up there wasn’t really a genre called “Young Adult literature.” We teenaged bibliophiles all just read inappropriate adult books. Sometimes we had to sneak, which made them even more delicious. (For me that was in the 1970s and 80s, so think Erica Jong, Tom Robbins, Kurt Vonnegut… those were the days!)

Today’s young adults though have authors writing books just for them, and we “adults” sometimes have to sneak reading those, to avoid public humiliation by our teenagers! (OK, maybe that’s just me and my teenagers.)  I used to fight with my daughter over who got to read the book first throughout the publication of Libba Bray’s G Continue reading

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it may be dreadful to be old but it’s worse not to be young

I sat in the audience of the BEA Middle Grade Author Buzz today, listening to three authors discuss their upcoming books. They fielded questions about where they got their ideas, how many drafts they usually wrote, how they felt about being labeled fantasy writers, writing to boys versus girls. All three were pleasant and articulate and I was happy to grab the advanced reading copies of their work, which I will devour as soon as I can. I happen to love Middle Grade books. There’s something so lovely about pre-pubescent stories, the absence of all that smelly, hormonal angst that YA books are steeped in (although I love YA books, too).

I wanted to ask a question, but I couldn’t quite put together a coherent enough sentence, even in my own mind. What did I want to know? It was something about voice, about writing the characters, about capturing the essence of an 8 to 12 year old, and getting it to ring true on paper. How do they do that? It’s not about writing a story and then dumbing down the language or vocabulary. At least these authors hadn’t.

After the panel discussion was over I kind of slunk up to one of the writers and sort of fumbled around with a half assed question. He was so kind and generous and somehow extracted what it was I wanted to know. He said, “I write to my 11 year old self. I write characters I would have wanted to read about or know when I was that age.” I love that. I can get that. That just seemed like such an authentic way to go about it.

All afternoon I’ve been trying to remember who I was when I was 8, 9, 10 years old. What books did I read and love when I was 12? How about you? Who were you? What did you read?

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